My Sense of Place in the Bay

Today is day 4 of Journey 1, this first journey is titled “Touring the Chesapeake: History and Sense of Place. When looking at the original schedule I thought to myself that sounds like a lot of traveling… something I am not a huge fan of. I am a homebody of its finest kind. Being away from home and being away from school are two very different things in my mind. I have established myself at Washington College and I feel secure there. That is where I belong when I am away from my home.

Men coming over to colonize in the “new world” must have had a similar train of thought. Although it was 406 years ago I imagine they had feelings of hesitation when traveling for 5 months across the Atlantic Ocean. Their travels took 5 months from England to Jamestowne, our trip took 5 hours from Chestertown to Jamestown.

Yesterday we traveled to the “fake” Jamestown, I say fake because it is a place where most of the funding goes, it is not the actual site on the James River. The park is replicated to show what Jamestown might have been like. Today we were able to visit the “real” Jamestowne or Yamestown as artifact, a shipping label said. After talking briefly with the woman at the gift shop we learned why the spelled it that way. She explained that in England I, Y and J are all interchangeable… Makes no sense to me but now I know.

Our tour guide Mary Anne, has worked for the reservation for 10 years, took us around the archaeological site explaining how they uncovered the past. She showed us how to look for different shading in the soil as that could indicate “backfilling” during construction or tilling of the landscape for agriculture. We saw briefly how the process worked, and how artifacts were discovered and dated. Mary Anne showed us how people lived, how they constructed houses and how they came up with the design of their fort. I felt like I had learned a lot about the first colonists in Jamestown.

Jamestown Archaelogist shows the tour group the differences in soil variation which indicates the presence of coffins and post holes.

Jamestown Archaelogist shows the tour group the differences in soil variation which indicates the presence of coffins and post holes.

Her name is Jane, or was Jane. Jane is believed to have been a 14 year old girl who traveled across the Atlantic with a group of 25 other women. They arrived on one of the smaller boats that made it successfully, unlike the Sea Venturer which was shipwrecked in a hurricane off the coast of Bermuda.

We learned in our lecture from Dr.Seidel this morning that the ‘Starving Time’ was linked to a drought, the drought extended year by year destroying crops and preventing the colonists from growing food successfully. Disease, lack of food and a lack of understanding of the effects of salt water on the body all lead to incredible death rates of colonists in early Jamestowne. The starving time became so bad and food was so scarce they eventually had to resort to cannibalism. It is a gruesome thought but the remains of 14 year old Jane were found in a trash pit; her skull fragments are indicative of being a victim of cannibalism.

Hearing of cannibalism now it makes you cringe almost, how could someone make a decision to kill and consume one of their own. It’s all about morals and culture. Maybe the culture back then cannibalism was accepted, I do not believe that was the case however. I think that in times of sheer panic and desperation people can act irrationally. The fact that I am sitting explaining how “desperate they must have been because they couldn’t have done it otherwise” goes to show I am trying to make an excuse for an action I do not agree with.

Jane’s skull and part of her leg bone were recovered in the trash pit but the rest of her remains have not been found. I instantly began thinking, why was she one of the 25 women who came from England? Was she a servant if not what did she do? It is sad to think a young girl came to the new world and then once the elements began to oppose any sort of food production she was killed and cannibalized. Jamestowne in 1609 is not a place I would want to be.

We also met with another archaeologist at the site named Danny Schmidt, he has been working recovering artifacts from Jamestowne for 20 years. He began as a volunteer at the age of 16 and fell in love with the exciting elements of archaeological discoveries. I asked him if he thought it was all possible that Janes remains could be buried in a grave site somewhere around the fort. Danny Schmidt was able to explain that it’s very possible she was given a proper Christian burial despite being brutally murdered. If that is true, he joked, it wouldn’t be hard to know it was her she would be likely one of the only skeletons with a missing skull and leg bone.

I want to find out who Jane was. I know that they are doing extensive research on early settlers in Jamestowne but why don’t they know yet? Knowing who she really was and why she traveled across the Atlantic to the New World can give a whole new perspective into the life of early colonists especially women.

It is incredible to think about how much I have learned in the past 4 days, I have foraged for food, ate a squirrel, caught a snake, fished, and built a fire. The camping trip helped me understand how food was collected and the ins and outs of that. Back then there is no quick way to do things because there are no shortcuts. I have learned about the early Jamestowne and have learned about Jane the young woman cannibalized during the starving time. It’s 4 days in and I think it’s safe to say I am well on my way to having a good sense of place in the Chesapeake Bay.

My venture on the Chesapeake semester is similar to the venture across the Atlantic Ocean. It is a bold comparison due to the amenities we have in our modern society, but nonetheless I have a desire to learn and be happy and find success, something I hope Jane had a sense of even in her short life.

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